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Experimental Ebola-virus drug fails to save priest’s life

15 August 2014


Taking precautions: a health worker sprays disinfectant to protect against the Ebola virus at Kenema Government Hospital, in Sierra Leone

Taking precautions: a health worker sprays disinfectant to protect against the Ebola virus at Kenema Government Hospital, in Sierra Leone

A SPANISH Roman Catholic priest, Fr Miguel Pajares, has become the first European to die of the Ebola virus, as the outbreak in West Africa continues to spread.

Fr Pajares, who died on Tuesday in hospital in Madrid, was 75. He caught the virus in Liberia, where he had been working as a missionary, helping to treat Ebola patients in the capital, Monrovia.

More than 1000 people have now died from the disease since the epidemic first began in February, mostly in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria.

Fr Pajares was treated with the experimental drug ZMapp. Two US aid workers who caught Ebola in Africa have also been treated with ZMapp in the United States, and their conditions have improved (News, 8 August).

Although ZMapp had not gone through the normal trials, the World Health Organisation (WHO) approved its use on Tuesday. The drug's makers said, however, that all supplies of ZMapp had been exhausted, and that it would take months to build up the necessary stockpiles.

Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD), the aid agency of the Episcopal Church in the US, has been helping to combat the disease in Liberia and Sierra Leone through local Anglican partners. As well as providing disinfectant and protective overalls to hospitals, the agency is also working with Anglican dioceses in each nation to inform people better about Ebola.

A senior programme officer for ERD, Abiy Seifu, said: "Faith leaders are respected and listened to by their communities, and can therefore play an important role. They can help head or promote education and awareness-raising campaigns to promote change in high-risk behaviours."

Churches in Monrovia have begun offering buckets of chlorinated water for worshippers to disinfect their hands. In Nigeria, some Christians are trying to avoid sharing the peace for fear of catching Ebola, which has killed more than half of those infected in the current outbreak.

Speaking to the Nigerian Tribune, the Ven. Ebenezer Adewole, an archdeacon in the Anglican diocese of Lagos West, said that Christians should focus on both the physical and spiritual aspects of the crisis.

"There are two sides to the issue. People have to be enlightened on preventive measures. We also have to ensure that body contact is reduced as much as possible. But the most important aspect is the spiritual: believing God for a cure."

While no drug has yet been produced that does cure those infected with Ebola, Canada has sent almost its entire stockpile of a vaccine (about 1000 doses) to the WHO to use in West Africa.

The deputy head of the Public Health Agency in Canada said that the vaccines were a "global resource". Last week, the WHO declared the Ebola crisis to be a global health emergency.

Dr Kent Brantly, who contracted the disease while working for Samaritan's Purse, in Liberia, said last Friday that he was responding well to treatment (News, 8 August). Dr Brantly, who became infected while treating Ebola patients, is in isolation at a hospital in the United States. In a statement, he said: "I am growing stronger every day, and I thank God for his mercy as I have wrestled with this terrible disease. I held the hands of countless individuals as this terrible disease took their lives away from them. I witnessed the horror first-hand, and I can still remember every face and name."

A missionary from Serving in Mission who contracted Ebola in the same Liberian hospital is also being treated in the same isolation unit. They both received a dose of an experimental serum while in Liberia after they were diagnosed. Dr Brantly also received a unit of blood from a 14-year-old boy who had survived Ebola under his care.

"One thing I have learned is that following God often leads us to unexpected places," Dr Brantly said.

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